Ever wanted to take a swing at playing as Ms. Marvel or Spider-Man? With the Marvel Heroic Roleplaying game by Margaret Weis Productions, you can do just that.
Over the weekend at GenCon, I was walking by one of the many demo booths when something caught my eye. It was the corebook for the Marvel Heroic Roleplaying tabletop game at the Margaret Weis Productions booth. This game would go on to take silver in the Best Game and Product of the Year categories, and gold for Best Rules at the 2012 ENnie ceremony (GenCon’s answer to the Oscars). I was able to both demo the game and speak with two very kind folks from Margaret Weis Productions: Amanda Valentine (Managing Editor) and Cam Banks (Game Designer).
Published in April of 2012, the Marvel Heroic Roleplaying game is a tabletop role-playing games meant to put players in the spandex of their favorite characters from the Marvel Universe. This differs from the player-created PCs common to most tabletop RPGs, but the aim of this game is a little different. Using the Cortex Plus system, which uses a dice pool system ranging from d4s to d12s, the Watcher (as the GM is known in this game) and players are encouraged to create a cinematic, drama-driven story experience inspired by the adventures from the Marvel Comic universe. As Ms. Valentine put it, people have a sense of these stories and characters. When things go wrong (which the entertainingly named doom pool ensures), it creates a dramatic arc during gameplay meant to resemble what comic fans read in their comic books. The game also does a good job of capturing the signature Marvel angst by tracking emotional and mental stresses as well as physical damage. The Cortex Plus system is a lot more abstract than common d20 style systems and rewards the creation of story moments rather than the death of another orc or kobold. And for those who want to invent their own characters, there are rules in place to do just that and it looks pretty easy to do.
The core rulebook contains an adventure detailing the breakout from the metahuman prison The Raft, as depicted in New Avengers #1-6, and rules for playing Avengers, Fantastic Four, and X-Men alike. At GenCon, Margaret Weis Productions was selling the first big event book, an adaptation of the 2006/2007 Civil War storyline. Further sourcebooks tied to the Civil War event include the 50 State Initiative, as well as books detailing rules for the Runaways, Young Avengers, and X-Men. Future events planned for publication are the Annihilation and Age of Apocalypse arcs. Mr. Banks assured me that the latter would involve characters from the original 1990s story, as well as incorporate more recent visits to the alternate history setting, such as those in Rick Remender’s recent Uncanny X-Force stories.
Having just acquired the corebook for Heroic Roleplaying and demoing it briefly, I cannot give a full review. The play style was easy to pick up in the demonstration, and did a good job of encouraging role-playing true to the Marvel characters, while allowing for enough creative flexibility to make the character feel like my own. In functional terms, the dice pool system was reminiscent of indie-styled games and seemed like it would be easy for new players to the system (or tabletop gaming in general) to learn. The system really is geared for a cinematic style of playing, and while I need to see how it plays out with a larger group, The art in the books looked familiar, and Ms. Valentine confirmed that all the art was indeed taken directly from the Marvel archives. As a result, everything is pretty nice to look at.
The Marvel Heroic Roleplaying Basic Game book lists at $19.99 (a point I certainly appreciate). Margaret Weis Productions also publishes rules for games for several licensed properties, including the Leverage, Smallville, Battlestar Galactica and Firefly universes.